Monday, February 1, 2016

A Disappointed Advocate

***The following post represents MY personal thoughts, and should not be considered as representative of any unit, group, or association.

I am a PTA member.   

That makes me a member of my local unit, my Regional PTA, the New York State PTA, and also the National PTA.  I've been a member for eight years, and seven of those years have been spent volunteering as an officer in my local unit.  That's right, I jumped in head-first and never looked back.  I don't remember why I felt such an urge to join...I had heard rumblings and rumors trying to sway me away from becoming a part of this group, but I knew that I wanted to be involved with what my three monkey children were doing...really involved. So I took the plunge and dove right in.

Today, however, public education is an entirely different animal, and I am a completely different PTA member than who I was when I first started on this journey many years ago. 

Eight years ago, the Common Core didn't exist and I wasn't even thinking about whether or not any tests that my children would be taking in their future school years would be appropriate, used for evaluating their teachers, or tied to funding for my school district.  Instead, as a new PTA member, I was merely looking at things like Bake Sales, Bingo, and Fundraising ideas.  At the local level, those are all great and important things that we do to help enrich our children's education experience.  We bring educational programs into the school, host "family fun nights",  and help to provide all of those little extras that our students would be missing were it not for our group securing it for every single student. When I became a PTA member, that's all it was about for me.

Today, I am a PTA member who is informed and educated on hot button issues.  I am a PTA member who is just starting to get a grasp on what this association is capable of at the local, state, and national level.  This isn't just another parent group who is merely looking to run your building's Field Day activities.  Any parent organization is capable of doing that. 

But when was the last time your local PTOther effectively advocated and had a part in:
  • The creation of Kindergarten
  • Safe buses and seatbelt regulations
  • Nationwide school lunch program
  • Improved playground safety
  • School libraries
  • Arts in education
As a PTA member, I've seen in my own state how we also have a respected voice and a seat at the table when it comes to effective lobbying for fair and equitable funding for our schools. The PTA is a resounding voice that is heard not only locally but across the state.

All of these examples have something in common - they have the potential to impact EVERY child in our public school systems.  This is advocacy, and this is PTA, and this is who I am at my very core.

Except....

Today, I am unhappy with my national association.  Today I feel ...betrayed by the National PTA.

With the release of their latest position statement on "Student Assessment and Opt-Out Policies", I am disappointed and disenchanted with this national level of my advocacy association.  It's a statement that is supposed to be, by the group's own mission, a voice for EVERY child.  Yet I can't help but wonder if my fellow parents of 240,000 students who made the choice to refuse the NY State Assessments last spring, are feeling that our own children's voices have been ignored at the National PTA level.  

This new statement that "calls for all students to participate in high-quality, comprehensive assessments that measure their growth and achievement so all children have the opportunity to reach their full potential" is full of pro-assessment verbiage that speaks of the woes of the opt-out movement, and its supposed detrimental effects to our students, except for a very brief mention that is almost buried in down in the 4th paragraph.
While we recognize that parents are a child’s first teacher and respect the rights of parents to make decisions on behalf of their children, the association believes the consequences of nonparticipation in state assessments can have detrimental impacts on students and schools. 
Let me be clear that I have never been against my children participating in high quality assessments - the key being "high quality".  Children (and parents) are still navigating their way through the disaster of the Common Core implementation here in New York State.  And I am completely opposed to my children continuing to be used as guinea pigs with an assessment system that has not yet proven itself to our public education system here in New York State.  

In a nutshell - in New York state, we're still waiting for those high quality assessments that the National PTA wants all of our children to participate in.

Since the release of, and in response to the National PTA's position statement, I've listened to parents advise one another to drop their PTA membership, or to push to become a PTOther in their buildings.  Let me be clear that I am NOT about to do that.  I've worked side by side with some pretty amazing PTA advocates in New York State doing some pretty amazing things.  It is the local, regional and state level units that are making changes, and are tirelessly advocating for your students and families.  I know, because I've witnessed it first hand.  

As a parent, however, I will continue to make this decision on behalf of my children, and they will, AGAIN, refuse this year's New York state assessments.  Many other parents across the country, like myself, were looking to the National PTA to support and advocate for ALL families, those who will choose to participate AND those who will not.  I believe, however, that this position statement from the national level is a slap in the face of our membership, and very nearly dismisses the voice of almost half a million children nationwide whose families have made the educated choice to refuse.

~C.

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